“Sarita, Sarita……….You are going to be OK!” I hear faint voices and think perhaps I am NOT going to be OK after all. (This is what happens in movies too, I guess when someone is going to die, and the doctor says “You are going to be Ok”). I can feel someone dabbing at the end of my yellow sari and continuously caressing my brown curly hair, but the sensation is soon getting numb.
With darkness gathering around me, I think back as what I have been through in the past couple of hours (days or perhaps months or years!)
With the start of my puberty, my parents were fanatic to get me married (I simply couldn’t understand the reason back then!) The first DECENT boy they came across was to be my future husband. He lived in Tilhavan, a village situated in Naubatpur block of Patna district in Bihar. It was not even connected by a road! I could only sit and wonder as how life would be for me from now on?
It was one morning that I woke up feeling very sick and weak! Soon after that I started vomiting (and the most silly and surprising thing was that everyone around me starting congratulating me!! Is that how we deal with a patient here? I was to still find out!) The truth dawned on me soon after and I became the would-be Mother! But the fact was to be kept it a secret for some time (Though I heard my mother-in-law whispering the secret to the lady next door, who is the known radio of the village!) The days were nothing different for me even after (Except for the added burden of morning sickness, flushes, pains and headaches!). For a girl who was only 15 then, it was difficult to understand what it is about to be a mother was!
That morning I was putting out the clothes to dry, when a lady walked up to me. She introduced herself as Rashmi, an ASHA, a volunteer health worker of the village and asked if there was a woman pregnant in the house? (So the radio had worked as I expected!)
Next day, I was taken by the Rashmi to meet a “lady in white” who was known as the ANM didi in the health system. Manisha didi gave me a shot of Tetanus Toxoid (TT) and 100 pills to eat. These small red looking pills were to increase my blood, as I was told that I looked pale. (Let the mother-in-law stop sucking some, everything would be alright) She told me that if I delivered in a government hospital, I would obtain Rs1400/- after my delivery.
In the mean time I could feel him grow within me! He seemed to take away all the nutrition from me. Most days I would feel sapped of energy and dizzy. (If you are wondering how I already know my baby is a “HE”, it was what my mother-in-law constantly told me - rather threatened me – ‘it better be a he’).
Unexpectedly the pain started one late evening for me. The vessel out of which I was serving food to my husband fell on the ground, with a loud noise!
Since there was no vehicle in the vicinity, I had to be brought to the hospital on a cot (The news of getting money after delivery was enough to persuade my mother-in-law for an institutional delivery, otherwise as she says “All of my children are healthy and born at HOME”).
I cannot exactly call THAT a Hospital! There was none around except for a sleepy lady who cursed me for having labour pains at that hour! As soon as I was shifted on the cold steel table I started shivering badly (I felt it to be more than shivers, as though my whole body was being shaken under a spell) I was told that my blood pressure was far too high and none could handle it there. The moment the lady saw this, she asked my husband to take me to a HIGHER hospital some 40 kms away for an operation! An ambulance was arranged to take me away (Not without asking to pay for it!) It was very difficult to think to go that far by someone as poor as us. So we landed in a private clinic behind the hospital instead (to cut me open!). The nurse at this clinic took my blood from the finger and shook her head. She told my husband that I had far “too less blood” and they did not have any facility to “transfer blood” during operation. For the second time in a night, I was let down by another hospital!
Next moment I was fighting between life and death in an ambulance! (We had to finally call an ambulance to take me to the next far off hospital). It was a huge question whether I would survive to reach the hospital or not? I guess even after reaching there, would I come under the knife of a doctor? (or would there be any doctor at this hour for that matter?)
With so many questions running in mind, none of my family members believed I would survive, but I did! Yes, it was impossible, but I did make it, perhaps to write a new story.
Soon after my baby was 6 months old, some people (city folks) knocked at my doorstep. They introduced themselves from CARE. They told me that CARE was an NGO and that it had started its work recently in my village. The two-way work that they talked about, on field as well as the hospital, is what impressed me. You require two hands to clap, true isn’t it? During talks with them, the story about my child-birth came up. They talked about birth-preparedness (I still didn’t understand what that EXACTLY meant) and many more things. This visit was soon followed up by Madhuri, an Anganwadi worker,who teaches young children and provides us with some supplementary food (I did not even know she lived in my village!). My child was weighed and registered for Anganwadi services. I was asked to attend the Village Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Days (VHSND) at the Anganwadi centre once a month and was also advised about various things to follow for keeping a young child healthy and happy. In one of my visits to Anganwadi centre, I met some people, who were from CARE too. They also insisted us (young mothers like me) to visit the Anganwadi regularly and learn all the good ‘new’ things. It felt nice to have someone actually talk about you and your child’s well being. I felt there was so much more that I could have done for my baby during my pregnancy had I known about this platform earlier (or perhaps had CARE come to me earlier!)
I am a would-be mother again now, but there is a difference! I am not that naïve girl anymore, but an empowered woman. I now know that I need to save for my baby, keep contacts of the vehicle owner in my area for transport and most importantly identify the facility where complications that can arise during delivery (I know them well enough to teach people too!) can be handled well. I learnt all this in a VHSND session on birth-preparedness (I later came to know that CARE had trained the AWW for such things). I have also been talking about birth-preparedness to my sister who stays in Rohtas, another district of Bihar. I even told her, “Wish CARE would work there too, they really ‘CARE’ for you!” I have also got myself checked for ‘no danger signs’ by the ANM, and am taking all the services due for a pregnant woman; but I still know that its not ‘fool-proof’ for no complications.So, this time I am ready, I can take the bull by its horns. All thanks to our health system staff and CARE team who made a difference in my life and probably are going to make changes into many more lives through the life of this project.